Autism: An Introduction

Autism RibbinWhat is autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by problems with social interactions, communication and repetitive and sometimes challenging behaviours. But more broadly, autism has been defined as a "genetically influenced, environmentally triggered disease of the brain and body, and is treatable".

Autism is a perplexing lifelong developmental disorder which impairs a child's natural instinct to communicate and form relationships. The autistic child usually withdraws into a world of his or her own. The degree to which each child is affected varies, and hence the term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but common characteristics include:

  • Difficulty with social relationships
  • Difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Lack of imaginative play
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Varying level of learning disability

Usually, parents see problems arise before their child reaches the age of 2. This can be based on unusual behaviours such as:

  • Not making improving eye-contact
  • A reduced level of babbling
  • A reduced level of responsiveness
  • Not meeting usual "milestones" of development

Diagnosis

A mother's instinct needs to be respected and acknowledged, and if she suspects that their child may not be developing in the typical way, then she needs to refer to her doctor as soon as possible. Diagnosis and assessments should be and can be carried out at a very early stage, as young as 2 years of age.

Is autism an "epidemic". Studies on prevalence give various results, subject to geography and timing, with America quoting 1 in 66 and Irish research estimating 1 in 100. It is also accepted that there are more boys than girls on the spectrum, to the extent of 4-to-1. It should be remembered that the prevalence of autism is greater than Down's Syndrome, Spina Bifida, childhood cancer, and Cyctic Fibrosis combined. Shouldn't we be asking why this epidemic is not being investigated?

What's your first step after diagnosis?

If autism is diagnosed or suspected, the first thing that parents need to do is to arm themselves with as much information as possible. This will mean reading books and finding groups which can offer support, both nationally and locally. The American charity Autism Speaks has prepared a "100 Day Kit" which is intended to help parents of newly-diagnosed children to make the best start on the learning curve of what autism is and what your first steps should be in that initial period. We strongly recommend that you print off this 100-page document.

This web-site contains a wealth of information on educational and medical matters relating to autism, as well as your rights and entitlements to State services and benefits. It also contains a large number of links to various autism organisations, both national and international. You will find information here on education, therapies, biomedical and diet issues. We hope that this web-site will help both newly-diagnosed parents and the existing autism community with information, news and views.